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Why fireworks in Georgia boom well after the 4th of July

Days after the Fourth of July, Jake’s Fireworks in Stone Mountain remains open for business, attracting customers seeking another round of fireworks.

On a recent sunny afternoon, a small but steady stream of customers fill their carts with everything from artillery shells and “Boomer Pop Pop Snappers” to bottle rockets, red-white-and-blue crackling fountains and sparklers.

Jake’s Fireworks in Stone Mountain is open for business year-round. Store manager Kaylan Western said business has been steadily rising each year. HELENA OLIVIERO / HOLIVERO@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Like several other fireworks shops in Georgia, this store opened shortly after fireworks sales became legal in Georgia in 2015. Kaylan Western, store manager, said business has been steadily rising each year.

You’ve likely heard an uptick in pops, crackles and booms, and even seen flashes of colors streaming across the sky in your neighborhood now that people can buy fireworks close to home. And it’s not only on Independence Day and New Year’s Eve. Weddings, anniversaries and other celebrations have buoyed the sale of fireworks into a year-round, growing business. What’s far less clear is whether lifting the ban on fireworks sales in Georgia has spurred more injuries.

During the 2017 fiscal year, fireworks sales in Georgia totaled about $24.8 million, up from $18.6 million during the previous fiscal year, according to the Georgia Department of Revenue. Fireworks sales in Georgia are also a boon for state tax revenue. The 5 percent excise tax on fireworks has resulted in $928,000 for the 2016 fiscal year, and $1.24 million for the 2017 fiscal year.

And it continues to rise. Georgia has received about $1.45 million in fireworks excise tax during the 2018 fiscal year, according to the most recent numbers from the Georgia Department of Revenue, which have not yet been finalized. That translates into $29 million spent on fireworks in the state.

RELATED: How late can you shoot fireworks in Georgia?

Jake’s Fireworks in Stone Mountain, which is open for business year-round, has a range of products, including the “Wow Factor” fireworks package with a wow price tag of $399.99. HELENA OLIVIERO / HOLIVERO@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

In a June fireworks report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the agency says in 2017, there were at least eight deaths from fireworks, and an estimated 12,900 injuries requiring emergency room treatment. The most common injuries associated with fireworks are burns, followed by bruises and cuts, according to the report.

None of the fatalities in 2017 involved Georgia residents. But in 2016, a 27-year old man from Georgia died when a firework struck him in the neck, according to a CPSC report.

There is no state breakdown of fireworks-related injuries by the federal agency.

MORE: Protecting pets during fireworks

Information on fireworks is incomplete in Georgia even though a state law requires hospitals to report any second- or third-degree burns affecting at least 5 percent of a person’s body, according to State Fire Marshal Dwayne Garriss.

In this file photo, the aisles of Phantom Fireworks of Roswell were ready for those shopping for New Year’s celebrations. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM 2016 (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Garriss said the form had initially required patients’ names, making some doctors reluctant to fill out the form out of privacy concerns. And even though the state changed the reporting process a couple of years ago, Garriss suspects injuries often go unreported and undercounted. People don’t always obtain treatment, and hospitals may not report cases. Of the 72 fireworks-related incident reports received by the state fire marshal’s office in 2017, only one was related to the injury. The others were related to property damage.

A recent incident is a reminder that fireworks are powerful explosives that can cause serious, even catastrophic injuries.

Two men with significant burns had to be airlifted after several fireworks inadvertently exploded at once during a private Fourth of July display this year on Lake Sinclair.

The victims were setting off fireworks on a floating barge in the Cold Branch area of the lake when a large explosion sent them diving into the water, authorities said.

“A sparkler had landed in one of the firework boxes and set off a bunch of them at one time,” said Sgt. Bo Kelly with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ law enforcement division.

Meanwhile, fireworks were to blame for burning three Dawson County homes and damaging two others early Thursday following a Fourth of July celebration. A spokesman for the state fire marshal’s office said the fire was ruled accidental, and the cause was improperly discarding fireworks in the trash outside the house that later reignited. There were no injuries.

Now that July Fourth is over, Jake’s Fireworks in Stone Mountain is open only on Fridays and Saturdays the rest of the year. On the recent afternoon, Western, the store manager, gives customers free “punks,” smoldering sticks used for lighting firework fuses. It is safer than a match or a lighter because it can be used from a greater distance and does not use an open flame. They are made of bamboo and a brown coating of compressed sawdust.

She reviews directions for setting off the fireworks.

And with a big smile, she eagerly talks about the wide variety of fireworks. Customers can scan fireworks and see them on a TV screen.

While perusing the shop with her twin, 11-year-old sons, Sarah Williams recalled making special trips to Alabama every year to buy fireworks. Now, she drives 3 miles to Jake’s.

“This place is amazing,” said Williams, who was looking to pick up fireworks for an upcoming beach trip. “I love that it’s so close, and I love the variety and it’s great I can spend my $200 or $300 on fireworks here in Georgia.”

She said she and her family take special safety precautions, making sure the fireworks are on a steady surface. They only light one at a time. They make sure to have a bucket or hose nearby.

For Williams, setting off fireworks is both nostalgic, bringing back memories of her childhood, and also great fun — the booming sounds, the bright colors, the surprise of it all.

Her favorite is a cake firework, which includes a series of Roman candles and small aerial shells.

“It’s like a show in a box,” she said.

Chelsea Prince contributed to this article.

FIREWORKS SAFETY

Fireworks are fun but can be dangerous. Follow these safety tips provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

— Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.

— Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.

— Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities, even sparklers. Some parents may not realize that young children can suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees — hot enough to melt some metals.

— Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.

— Never try to relight or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.

— Never point or throw fireworks at another person.

— Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.

— Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.

— Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.

— After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.

NOTE: Georgians can set off fireworks until 9 p.m. on normal days and until midnight on the Fourth of July, according to the legislation. On New Year’s, fireworks can be set off until 1 a.m. Some exceptions may apply if these regulations contradict local governments’ noise ordinances.

MORE: 21 fun and free things to do with kids this summer in Atlanta

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